Sunday, July 24, 2005

indigenous secrets

In one of my seminar classes a few months ago we were discussing the book Ojibawa Warrior by Dennis Banks. It tells the story about the American Indian Movement from the perspective of one of its leaders. I found many of the stories inspiring because of the extent that these men and women went to fight for their rights and their survival (such as armed resistance against the FBI and US military to occupying a Federal building in Washington D.C.). But at the same time the text was disheartening because of how little has changed in the lives of Native Americans, as their existences continue to be simultaneously erased and appropriated in very exploitative and simplistic ways.

Back to the seminar, one of the my classmates began to critique the book, saying that Banks didn't go into enough detail about how they organized. Their strategies. Their tactics. She wanted to know more of those things and felt like the text wasn't very good since Banks hadn't addressed those issues.

Upon hearing this, I recalled something Vince Diaz had said at the Sovereignty Matters conference earler in the year. Diaz had spoken about Chamorro surival and resistance against the colonization of Spanish and the United States forces, and how this resistance was predicated on the fact that Chamorros kept secrets. By holding things back, by never telling all or allowing themselves to be the ideal anthropological fodder, they were able to resist and able to maintain continuity. Thus Diaz said that if indigenous people want to keep their secrets, they should! Resistance is impossible or can only fail miserable without it.

The multicultural impulse is one of transparency. Since we are all in our little bounded bubbles of equal cultural diversity, we must all be representatives of our cultures and be honest and open with each other. We should be able to know everything about each other.

The idea upon which this runs however is that each of our cultures is meant to be useless, meant to be meaningless. Just a simple, easy facet of a more dominant culture (such as mainstream off-white American culture) or lack of culture (such as post-modern fundamentalist tendencies for belief in non-belief). People emeshed in this feel the ethical urge for transparency precisely because culture is supposed to be harmless here. We are all equal and wonderfull beautiful, why should we keep secrets from each other? Our cultures in this sense, become not that thing which we use to navigate reality, but something which gives us access to the culture that our culture is just a smaller part of.

Thus, for example in Chamorro culture in the United States, the things which are meant to make it distinct, which make Chamorro culture impossible or difficult within the US are cast aside, because they are seen as secrets. Secrets here should be read as difference which cannot be shared, difference which doesn't not connect us to the more universal culture, which is a mainstream national American identity. The multicultural urge for transparency is this a policing mechanism, a way of ensuring that the order which makes all the "beautiful" little cultural particularities in the US do not threaten, or complicate as little as possible, the dominant of a white mainstream American culture.

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